Orlando Sentinel
February 5, 2006

2005: Family decides to leave island to give kids opportunity

Víctor Manuel Ramos
Sentinel Staff Writer

Hilda and Sigfredo Méndez were among the last holdouts from a waning circle of relatives and friends in the Puerto Rican city of Guaynabo.

Several people close to them had left the island to come to Orlando during the past decade. The Méndezes were trying to make it in Puerto Rico.

That changed just five months ago, when Méndez decided to quit what he saw as a dead-end job at a Guaynabo Wal-Mart to try his luck in Kissimmee.

There was no one reason that changed their minds. Instead, there were three: Their names are Joe, Caroline and Yahviel.

Méndez said he hopes their children, toddlers to teens, will have better opportunities if they go to school on the U.S. mainland.

Thirteen-year-old Joe is good at baseball, and Méndez is counting on his talent to land scholarships for a college education.

"Here, he could come and learn English well so he could be in a better position to go to a good university someday," said Méndez, 34.

In the few months since arriving, the Méndez family has grown accustomed to the neighborhood, the familiarity of living near other Puerto Ricans and the orderliness of the mainland.

Hilda Méndez has enrolled in English classes and may try for technical training. The other children are happy in their schools and, Méndez says, show significant progress in learning English.

Méndez and his wife have already made a decision: They are not returning to Puerto Rico.

"Only to visit," said Méndez, who has found a better-paying job stocking merchandise at a BJ's Wholesale Club. "Life is better here."